Footloose (2011, Craig Brewer): I guess if you’re going to remake an 80s cult classic that wasn’t much of a classic to begin with, Hustle and Flow director Brewer’s retelling of dance prohibition in a small Southern town would be the best way to go about it. Hitting all of the high notes fans of the original would remember fondly and only updating the story to fit modern musical stylings and conventions, Brewer solidly hits this one on the nose. It’s not very necessary, but as far as remakes go, at least this one doesn’t make the original look like something it wasn’t.
Following the death of his last remaining parent, Boston born teenager Ren MacCormack (Kenny Wormald) finds his way to the small town of Bomont, Tennessee to live with his remaining family. Ren’s big city ways rub some of the locals the wrong way, especially when he develops a crush on the town pastor’s bad-girl daughter (Julianne Hough) and he shows a desire to repeal the town’s decade old ban on public dancing. The film quickly becomes a battle of wills between Ren and the pastor (Dennis Quiad) who’s still smarting from the death of his son in the accident that lead to the town’s bizarre public congregation laws.
Wisely keeping a great deal of the old soundtrack to appeal to fans of the original, Brewer’s film feels less “old timey” than the 1984 original. Wormald and Hough only have to act hard enough to rise above just being a couple of pretty faces, while Quaid, Andie MacDowell, and a really great Ray McKinnon hold things down for the adult team. Brewer brings his excellent feel for music and dance to the production, making it oddly more satisfying than the aging original. It’s a great Saturday afternoon movie to throw on before going out on the town.
The Blu-ray comes packed with special features including commentary from Brewer, numerous featurettes about the cast and making of the film, deleted scenes, and music videos.
Immortals (2011, Tarsem): Director Tarsem Singh previously made two visually stunning, but incredibly boring and boneheaded films (The Cell, The Fall) before taking on his latest film Immortals. Undoubtedly talented when it comes to visuals, his latest film somehow manages to rank as the least of his efforts, but not for lack of trying. Whereas his past efforts have been ambitious failures, there simply isn’t anything in this sword and sandals epic that hasn’t been done before, or better, hundreds of times before.
Future Superman Henry Cavill stars as Theseus, a Hellenic warrior looked down upon for being a bastard son. Out for revenge against the power hungry King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke) for killing his mother and all the peasants in his former village, Hyperion searches for the Epirus Bow, a powerful weapon forged by Ares, which can unleash the imprisoned Titans and help defeat the Gods of Olympus. Theseus, who has been trained by an incognito Zeus (played as a human old man by John Hurt and as a God by Luke Evans) since he was a child, is the only mortal powerful enough to stop Hyperion, but given his past, he struggles with helping to preserve a culture that never treated him fairly. His love interest comes in the form of a virgin oracle (Freida Pinto) who foresees Theseus possibly joining forces with Hyperion despite his claims to being duty bound by Helenic tradition.
Cavill’s performance is pretty indicative of the boring nature of the film. It’s great to look at, but there is no substance. Every bit of the budget is put up on screen, but the normally wild and crazy Singh is curiously subdued and the production design comes across as something coming about three or four years too late to cash in on the success of 300. The only real moments that showcase Singh’s vivid imagination are the beginning, the end, and the few brief moments where the film shows what happens on Mt. Olympus. Other than that, this film is just a string of average battle sequences with digital gallons of fake CGI blood.
The Blu-ray includes some interesting deleted scenes, including two alternate endings and an alternate opening. There’s also a pair of featurettes, one of which delves into the film’s mythological basis and another that attempts to explain Tarsem’s visual style, which comes across as more pretentious than insightful.
Jack and Jill (2011, Dennis Dugan): While it’s far from the worst film Adam Sandler has ever been involved in, Jack and Jill feels like a moment of sea change in modern cinema. This was, quite rightfully, the moment that Sandler’s own audience turned on him and began to mock his choices in films. It’s of little shock that for his next film, Sandler will be abandoning his directorial cronies of Dennis Dugan and Steve Brill for the team behind the much hipper Hot Tub Time Machine and the writers of Role Models and Wanderlust. Still, this film is so awful that audiences still might not want to return.
Playing twins Jack and Jill Sadelstein, Sandler gets to show his range at acting both bored (in the case of Jack) and thoroughly annoying (in the case of the fat suited Jill). Jack’s a put upon advertising executive trying to land Al Pacino (playing himself, almost unsurprisingly at this point in his career) for a Dunkin’ Donuts campaign, who uses his mooching sister to try to land the deal because Pacino is somehow smitten by her.
Aside from being aggressively unfunny and not making a lick of logical or narrative sense, Jack and Jill is just a dull and lifeless movie. It equates shouting for wit, and it seems to pull its punches in terms of just how raunchy it wants to be. It’s all oddly sanitized and inert when it should be off the wall craziness. Sandler seems to just be going through the motions, leading me to believe that he works with the same directors over and over again because they don’t make the actor work too hard. And with an unengaged Sandler in the lead, the rest of the supporting cast (save for Pacino) is left hopelessly adrift. Still, there are a few chuckles to be had, especially during the film’s profoundly meta final sequence, but it’s a chore to get to that point.
The Blu-ray/DVD combo pack comes with mercifully deleted scenes, a curiously dour blooper reel, and four featurettes, one of which is basically just a commercial for Royal Caribbean cruise lines. It also comes with a coaster in the form of a DVD copy of the film.
Like Crazy (2011, Drake Doremus): In my own minority opinion, Like Crazy was the best film of 2011, mostly for deeply personal reasons. Sometimes a movie just comes along and hits you in a perfect way and impacts you in a profound way. Doremus’ tale of a long distance relationship that alternately strengthens and sours over the years is a gritty and almost perversely intimate look at first love. It’s equally a tale of love and utter heartbreak that never once sugarcoats or derides the conflicted feelings involved.
Furniture designer Jacob (Anton Yelchin) and aspiring journalist Anna (Felicity Jones) begin a deep, passionate relationship towards the end of university, when Anna will eventually have to return to her home in the UK. After impulsively overstaying her visa to spend the remainder of her summer with Jacob, Anna is barred by the American government from re-entering the country. This roadblock turns their already long distance relationship into an even more tenuous one, filled with equal parts mirth and pain.
Filmed using nothing more than a still camera and working with only an outline to guide the film (there is no formal script as the dialog and actions are almost entirely improvised by the cast), Like Crazy feels like a real relationship unfolding before the audience’s eyes. Yelchin and Jones are such great actors that they completely lose themselves within the roles. Their hard work is certainly worthy of Oscar consideration and a real reason why the film works so well. Jennifer Lawrence is also spectacular in a small, but pivotal role as a young woman Jacob dates while on a break from Anna.
Doremus (who gives a thoughtful and deeply personal commentary track with the cinematographer in the DVD’s one special feature) focuses on only what is absolutely relevant to the couple’s relationship. The film never dwells on scenes where the lovers are actually getting together or breaking up, and puts far more emotional weight on the smaller moments of a relationship that many people find burned into memory more than the larger showier moments that other films would turn into melodramatic set pieces. This is a romance unlike any in recent memory because it is entirely free of any sort of melodrama or twee indie film conventions. It’s not for everyone as some might balk at the film showing just how selfish love can be, but even the haters will have to admire the film’s deeply intimate portrait of love’s pitfalls.
Portions of this above review originally appeared over at Criticize This! on November 4th, 2011 from the same author.
Also out this week: In addition to the release of first season of the much better than expected procedural show King and the Felicia Day produced Dragon Age series (full review coming later today), there’s the crisp and beautiful re-release of To Catch a Thief and the gripping Icelandic thriller Reykjavik-Rotterdam, which was less successfully remade earlier this year as Contraband. There’s also a direct to DVD western with Val Kilmer called Wyatt Earp’s Revenge and an animated film for young children called Animals United.